The Bush Administration's Fear of War...and What Forces Them to Wage It
[German] (November 2002)
In Italy, France, but above all in the United States and England, many hundreds of thousands of people go in the streets in order to protest against the United States' forthcoming war against Iraq. They do this on different grounds and with varying ideas of why the Bush-Cheney-Rice clique wants this war no matter what.
In order to be against war, we don't need to know anything about their respective backgrounds. Wars are always massacres in the interests of the rulers. Whether Bush or Saddam Hussein, whether Schröder or Bin Laden, whether Sharon or Arafat--war and terrorist attacks serve them in the securing of their power and maintenance of the conditions on which their power rests. War is the sharpest form and demonstration of the force on which the capitalist order, the daily prison of labor and the power of money are based (see Wildcat: Global War for the World Order).
But in order to be able to proceed effectively against the war, we must be able to understand its (back)grounds and political meaning, and publicly explain them. We cannot underestimate our enemies, even if they come in the form of a nincompoop US president from the oil business (see Midnight Notes: The First Rule of Peace: Respect Your Enemy)--we should also, however, not overestimate them.
A general tendency among the contemporary antiwar protesters appears to be the feeling of impotence against the plans of a world power (Opting out on Iraq) that can't be stopped. In Germany, where, at the worldwide day of action against the war on October 26, 2002, very few people went into the streets, this sense of impotence paired itself with the dangerous tendency to delegate the opposition to the war to their own capitalist state.
In the antiwar movement different reasons for the planned attacks on Iraq are discussed and compared to one another. But we cannot understand the present rush to war if we only observe isolated snippets of the capitalist totality, and play those different aspects against one another--instead of understanding how the moments of this worldwide system hang together.
- "The New Empire": The United States today is the exclusive superpower in the world, with by far the strongest military and economic power. In all wars of the United States, it has to do with securing this imperial position. In the United States there is a broad discussion about "the new Rome" (see for example American Primacy in Perspective or Rome, AD ... Rome, DC?), and imperialism and colonialism are being rehabilitated and recommended as goals of American foreign policy.
- "The Competition of Nation-States": In the struggle for world mastery, the United States negotiates with other states: the Euro-bloc in Western Europe, the ex-superpower Russia, the possibly arriving China. Many areas of tension, e.g., the wrangling over a UN resolution against Iraq, the trade war between the USA and the EU, or the fear of US economists of the euro as a second world currency, fit only so well into the traditional image of "imperialist competition." A war of the United States against Iraq is a war against its imperialist adversaries: China, Russia, the EU (above all Germany and France), or Japan.
- "Geostrategic Goals": In the struggle for world mastery "space" counts. With the division of the world into two power blocs after World War II, "geopolitics" was pushed into the background. Today, it is again broadly discussed. Afghanistan is indeed an insignificant country, but its bombing opened a new possibility for the United States to entrench itself in Central Asia. As "geostrategic space" this region is very important, because it lies right in the middle of the great powers of Western Europe, China, Russia and India.
- "War for Oil": Since oil has become the central energy-bearer of capitalist production and the most important raw material of every war effort, oil discovery, prodcution and transport play a central role. The attack on Iraq should assure the United States the influence that it could lose with the breakaway of its strategic ally Saudi Arabia. Military presence in Central Asia creates for them an influence on the oil from the Caspian Sea. The new military-strategic interest of the USA in Africa turns on the strong growth in oil production there.--On the other hand, here lie worries for China, France, Russia, etc.: Through the seizure of the Iraqi oilfields (and possibly also those of Saudi Arabia) they could be forced out of business and the USA would then have made itself into the single controller of global oil resources.
- "Domestic Political Imperatives": An administration of the United States, which only came to power through electoral fraud, which is deeply implicated in the Enron scandal and other manipulations, which must submit to inquiries about how much it knew about the attacks before 9/11, and which is confronted with a dramatic economic crisis and gigantic foreign debts... This US administration has sufficient reason to compensate for domestic weaknesses with a demonstration of foreign power.
Many of these arguments are understood in the sense that states confront one another as independent subjects. Especially when war is at issue, this false image imposes itself. But capitalism and its reproduction are from the beginning based on an international division of labor, on chains of production and exploitation, which are bound together by the world market. The particular nation-states could only exist on this basis. Simultaneously, they are the most effective form of making the global productive apparatus, i.e., the global connection of humanity to itself, disappear behind the competition of nation-states. The emergence of nations means, above all, binding the proletariat to "their" state, which competes with other states.
The particular states could only exist within a state system in which they mutually recognize one another's statehood--what is called "sovereignty." What connects them and what they are based on is the worldwide maintenance of exploitation, which is based on a supranational apparatus of production and the world market. In the historic development of this apparatus lies the key to understanding international relations--not the reverse. With the bourgeois division into "domestic" and "foreign" policy, the essence of statehood as a powerful assurance of class relations is masked.
The image of competing nation-states finds its confirmation in the fact that there is a dramatic hierarchy in the worldwide state system, where the weaker states are ruled by the stronger. From the beginning, however, the capitalist world market is based on the fact that the state system is dominated by a hegemonic power. Venice, Genoa, the Netherlands, the British Kingdom and the United States succeeded one another in this role, in which the phases of dominance grew ever shorter. The respective dominance of each power was always both: the expression if its interests and its economic superiority, and simultaneously a condition of the functioning of the whole global exploitation and valorization apparatus. They were succeeded by one another when they could no longer rise to this task and when a superior method of production had developed on another state's territory, thus when another great power could better fulfill the job of worldwide maintenance of class relations, and this superiority over its competitors permeated the situation (Arrighi has presented the remarkable parallels between the decline of the British empire and the decline of the United States as hegemonic power: The Global Market).
Such changes always occur in phases of general crisis of world capital and of the accumulation of capital--and we find ourselves in such a phase again today. Since the mid-1970s states have attempted, everywhere in the world, without success, to hold off the stagnation of profit and accumulation by means of an attack on the proletariat. In the 1990s, it succeeded once, above all in the United States, in simulating a boom. It was based on Internet and New Economy hype, on historically and uniquely low oil prices and on the inflation of a gigantic bubble on the stock markets. For two and a half years this "boom" has been collapsing. The whole extent of the swindle is more and more recognized, even by the "public," but an end to the crisis is nowhere in sight, and we are living through a worldwide wave of layoffs.
In this crisis, the decline of the United States as a hegemonic power is combined with the social crisis of the whole capitalist world order. Thus, it has to do with two things: the attempt of the United States to maintain its position with war (to which all the above mentioned aspects belong: geostrategy, control of the oil economy, securing the dollar, etc.) is simultaneously a struggle for the assurance of the capitalist order.
But in war there lies no perspective for the development or the relegitimization of capitalism. It's anybody's guess whether the United States will be able to maintain its position through war, or whether this will simply hasten its demise--just like the British empire finally lost its dominance in World War I. The strength of the US economy, which the ideologues of the "new Rome" call upon, has been based for more than twenty years on the United States' ability to attract foreign capital. From creditor to the world the United States has become the greatest debtor to the world. War and military superiority is the last means by which they can assert the dependency of the world on their economic situation and their currency--and simultaneously, in the gigantic armaments program and its application lies the danger of unleashing a shocking outflow of capital. With the dollar's weakness in the first half of 2002 and its renewed slip in November 2002 this perspective has grown obvious. The uncertainty of what a "shooting war" would mean for the role of the United States and global development is revealed in the military and diplomatic debates. From the beginning there were strong objections in the US military against an intervention in Iraq, momentarily being played out (now also in public) in terms of the problem of "urban warfare". With that the limits of military power show themselves, when it has to do with social control. And it also shows that the "Vietnam syndrome" has in no way been overcome. The war strategists have great worries--and inquiries confirm that--the overheated patriotism since 9/11 sags when a ground war requires massive casualties of US troops.
The Bush administration is determined to wage this war, not by their own free will, but because there hardly remains anything else: domestically, economically, geostrategically... The successful (!) demonstration of power is more important the more crisis-ridden capital becomes. In the phase from 1945 till the mid-1970s, capital could dampen the class struggle with the promise of rising wages and national development. With the end of the speculative simulated boom it has no further perspectives to offer. In this sense, wars are always reactions to threatening situations in the class struggle. Capital is today no longer confronted with a global upwelling of strikes and revolts like 1968-73, but in spite of all neoliberal propaganda, the governments of the capitalist states have not succeeded in shifting the crisis to the proletariat. In this situation, already, particular and as-yet-isolated conflicts like the revolt in Argentina, the struggle of the dockworkers on the US West Coast, or the strikes of the London Underground drivers and the firefighters in England become a threat. They show the rulers the limits of their crisis politics against the proletariat, and in them people can see new ideas arise, like how they can organize their own social arrangements beyond capitalist exploitation and state power.
Because it is so uncertain what their war politics could result in or trigger off, the Bush government is scared. It must secure itself on all sides, and can only laboriously win the support of allies, on which it is dependent.
The movement against the war can only grow strong when it doesn't accept the war as a given fact and doesn't understand itself as impotent protest. It must explain everywhere and also to itself that the contemporary war-waging is an expression of a historically transitory system, whose perspectives are gone. It acts against an enemy that is weak, split, and uncertain of the possibilities of maintaining power. The enemy is, on that account, no less dangerous, but rather, because of its hopelessness, determined to do anything. But today it is everywhere bumping up against the limits of its power.
"Our enemy is here, it is those who command our lives. And it will therefore also have to do with the small things of daily life: Here we must act in resistance and attack everywhere we can." (Henri Simon, The Third Internationalist Camp)